More ice, less snow

Two weeks has passed since our last post and unfortunately the snow that we are all hoping for has yet to arrive.  Because of this we are still not issuing either a “General  Avalanche Advisory” or a “5-Scale Avalanche Danger Rating Advisory”.  We will continue monitoring conditions daily and will begin advisories when there is enough wide spread issues to do so.   We won’t start forecasts for the first isolated minor pocket to develop so, as always, have your avalanche senses on even though advisories have not yet begun.

While it feels much colder here than it has lately, a quick tally of average temperatures for the first 12 days of December indicates a mean departure in historical average temperatures of 9 degrees warmer. Still, the last week or so, temperatures have been well below the freezing point and a look around the ravines reveals a technical ice climbers paradise, as long as paradise includes really rocky, almost snow free approaches and descents and areas of thin ice.  The recent rain and mixed precipitation has fed some of the more ephemeral ice and mixed routes in the ravines giving the adventurous some good options to scare themselves silly.  Cold nighttime temperatures have begun to freeze the lower volume drips and flows but most flows are still running water with plenty of slush and poor bonding to contend with.

Hikers planning to head to the summit should bear in mind that this past  Sunday night’s (12/9) slushy mixed precipitation is now solidly frozen making some sort of traction device for your feet a helpful, if not required tool for a successful ascent.  Rock hopping and skirting the myriad ice flows on the Tuckerman Ravine trail would make for a long day with lots of detours and possible falls.  Last year’s early season trail conditions were similar and led to at least two people sustaining head injuries which required trips to the hospital.  This time of year, microspikes are more helpful than crampons and worth their weight in gold. If I had a nickel for every frozen, hidden trip hazard that I encountered on the trail today, I could save the nation from falling off the fiscal cliff.

A few words to help you plan an adventure on Mount Washington:

  • Sunset today is 4:06pm with only about 9 hours of daylight to summit and get back to your car or camp. Daylight is still waning.  A headlamp could become your best friend in the event of an injury or slow partner.
  • Sunny days will loosen ice from south facing cliffs.  Be cautious when moving through or travelling below these locations.  Winter has still not locked things in place and the regular sound of icefall in Tuckerman’s is a good reminder that this little mountain can have big consequences to those not mindful of all the potential hazards.
  • Trail conditions will only become more challenging with the approaching cold front  which is likely to drop some snow to obscure the rocks and ice. Plan for more time than usual for your ascent and descent in these ankle breaking conditions.
  • Windspeeds during the day on Saturday will ramp up to the 60-80mph range as temperatures fall to the mid-teens.  Winds in that range make staying upright difficult in exposed areas.
  • Be sure to check current weather forecasts at the Mount Washington Observatory, posted at the Pinkham and Crawford Notch Visitors Centers as well as at the Harvard Cabin and caretaker cabin in Tuckerman Ravine.  The staff in these locations are great at passing along information about current conditions.
  • Avalanche hazards can grow quickly now that we have some bed surfaces beginning to develop.  Be sure to check as winter continues to take hold up here.

Frank Carus, Snow Ranger
USDA Forest Service
White Mountain National Forest
(603) 466-2713 TTY (603) 466-2856